The history of movie adaptations based on video games has been, for a use of a conservative term, disappointing. Mario Bros, Doom, Tomb Raider (all three!), Prince Of Persia, Double Dragon, Street Fighter, Alone In The Dark, Tekken and Max Payne, to name a few, have been absolute failures on many levels.
The examples of successful transitions between the two narrative mediums are scarce. Some Resident Evil entries come to mind, and perhaps the so-bad-its-good aura of Mortal Kombat that has turned it into a cult movie in recent years. But in general, it’s as if both platforms try too hard to emulate each other, canceling each other in the process.
Dead Rising: Watchtower, however, is an interesting exception. Based on the Dead Rising videogame saga created by Keiji Inafune and developed by Capcom, this movie is by no means a classic. But thanks to the fact that it takes its own route and establishes its own protagonists, without ever neglecting the rules and spirit of the universe in which it is being inspired, this is a more than decent adaptation, with its own personality.
Set between the events of the video games Dead Rising 2 and Dead Rising 3, Watchtower follows the story of Chase Carter (Jesse Metcalfe), an online reporter who along with his camerawoman Jordan Blair (Keegan Connor Tracy) are looking for some original story within the Quarantine area established in the fictional town of East Mission. The zone, organized by F.E.Z.A. (Federal Emergency Zombie Authority) is trying to contain a viral zombie outbreak.
Because yes, in the Dead Rising universe, zombie outbreaks have been controlled and neutralized a couple of times before. The pharmaceutical billionaire company Phenotrans has created a drug called Zombrex, which, in daily doses, prevents an infected person from becoming a zombie.
But like any pharmaceutical multinational that respects itself, Phenotrans is the great invisible antagonist of this universe. Think Resident Evil’s Umbrella, with way less experimental mutations.
Because when Zombrex begins to stop being effective in the quarantine zone, Chase and Jordan decide to investigate thoroughly on suspicion of some internal conspiracy.
General Lyons (played by Dennis Haysbert, who is becoming a kind of affordable Idris Elba), reports the government’s radical decision to bomb the area and eradicate the problem.
Chase meets the infected Crystal (Meghan Ory), and his suspicions are reaffirmed. Crystal has a personal dose of Zombrex that works perfectly, which puts into question the theory that the drug has stopped working. There’s something else.
If you never take it seriously, Dead Rising: Watchtower does a more than acceptable job balancing the over-the-top zombie-killing action with the story of investigative journalism that seeks to unmask a conspiracy.
Dead Rising: Watchtower is full of details thanks to a commendable production design. The zombies are nothing generic (there are clowns, policemen, firemen, dancers, etc.) and the human characters design are borderline cartoonish, which is great.
The film also maintains what is perhaps the most important hallmark of the gameplay of the original video game: The ridiculous customization of weapons used to tear up zombies. It does so in a way that feels genuine and as unlikely and ridiculous that the weapons can be (a electric-charge machete? A metal garbage lid with sharp blades as a shield?), they worked perfectly.
Dead Rising: Watchtower also has numerous humorous bits distributed throughout the film, which lighten the pace and make the experience more entertaining. In those bits, news anchor Susan Collier (Carrie Genzel) is reporting the most recent events, while interviewing the legendary Frank West (Rob Riggle), the protagonist of most Dead Rising video games and undoubtedly the most popular and beloved character.
Rob Riggle does a great job with this Frank West, even though his humorous version completely ignores the badass hero side that gamers know. This static, cynical, egocentric and charismatic West serves to throw universe references and to cause some necessary laughs. His interaction with Genzel is perhaps the best thing about the movie.
Those who aren’t familiar with the original Capcom video game will certainly enjoy this adaptation much less, but even with that obstacle, Dead Rising: Watchtower offers enough entertaining and violent moments to be enjoyed by newcomers.